By Mark V. Lonsdale
Training for Competition and Beyond
The first question – what is Good Judo?
Good Judo is Ippon Judo where throws are big, clean, and nicely executed. To be scored an Ippon in randori or shiai, a throw must have four components: control, force, speed, and the opponent lands largely on the back. If any one of these is missing it may be scored a Wazari.
Good Judo in competition is when the player is constantly attacking and going for the big terminal Ippon. When the player is successful, Uke soars through the air, crashes to the tatami, and the referee shoots his or her hand up to signal the Ippon. Good Ippons are easy to score and everyone remembers them.
Therefore, Bad or Negative Judo is when a player is bent over, stiff armed, non-combative or continually playing for the smallest of points. Or, as we often see, attempts to make his or her opponent shido, and spends too much time fighting over grips. A negative Judo player will make a minor attack every 25-30 seconds to avoid being awarded a shido, and will drop to all-fours (flop and drop) after an attack to avoid being countered. This is also known as making “low risk attacks,” but it is ugly Judo and not at all interesting to watch. In a constant effort to make Judo more visually interesting for spectators and television, referees are instructed to penalize players for negative Judo.
So the problem for young competitors and their coaches is that if they focus only on competition tactics, and adopt a low risk style of fighting, they will never grow as Judoka. Now don’t get me wrong, I love competition Judo as much as anyone. In fact I devoted a good part of my life to being an international competitor and continue as a Veteran, but I appreciate Good Judo even more and I am not alone in this.
From an article in a 2005 California Judo Magazine, I read how former All Japan Champion, Yasuhiro Yamashita, valued good Judo and admitted to practicing kata on a regular basis. He felt that when he was having problems with technical aspects of his competition performance, that kata helped improve his techniques and made his throws more precise.
This is a radical concept for a competition fighter – voluntarily practicing kata, and not just for grading or promotion points. Here is a World Champion who regularly returns to good Judo, in the form of kata, to hone his techniques for competition.
My story is one of being selected by Isao Inokuma, the Japanese National Coach at the time, to train with Nobuyuki Sato at the French National Sports Institute. For those of you not old enough to remember Sato, he too was one of Japan’s great champions, so I knew I was in for a pounding. But Inokuma Sensei assured me that, “Sato would only use one technique, tai-otoshi.”
This did not alleviate my concerns as tai-otoshi is a very fast, powerful body-drop, and I had seen how fast and how hard Sato had thrown other members of the French training squad. But since he was restricted to one technique, I felt confident I could come up with a suitable block, if not a counter. How wrong I was!!
Even though Sato used only one technique, he was able to enter this throw from several different directions and with an equal number of feints. The result was that in a five minute randori, I was picking myself up off the mat for four of those minutes. But with pain comes gain so I learned an important lesson that day.
A good Judoka can select a favorite technique (tokui-waza) and then build a family of entries and combinations around that technique. Sato would use tai-otoshi in combination with deashi-barai, sasae-tsurikomi-ashi, ouchi-gari, and even uchi-mata. Each of these was just a set-up to off-balance his opponent so that he could finish them with the body-drop – every throw a bone-jarring Ippon.
So for the club level Judoka who is aspiring to be a Judo champion, it is important not to neglect practicing Good Judo. My personal training program called for doing good Judo with lots of big attacks in club randori three nights a week. Then at national squad training, three days a week, I would work on competition tactics and grip fighting. I also taught juniors three evenings a week, which greatly helped in polishing my techniques, since each demonstration for the class had to be technically perfect. In addition, doing light randori with the juniors allowed me to work on my techniques, timing, and footwork, while using absolutely no strength.
So, for the young Judoka (and some not so young) who are reading this, don’t be afraid to try for those big Ippons in club randori, even if you get countered. It is more important to develop the technique, timing and confidence to attack than to worry about winning or losing in randori. In time, that focus on doing Good Judo will emerge in competition with beautiful and memorable wins by IPPON.